FM radio broadcasting has been very good to me. Thanks to it and AM radio broadcasting, I’ve been able to eke out a living. About 40 years of my life were devoted to commercial radio broadcasting and its culture.
The first inkling of my career in the business happened when I was about five-years-old. I have dim memories of hearing a Benny Goodman song on the kitchen radio. I suddenly became fascinated with the idea that music and voices came out of such a small box. I recall the thought that I wanted to be somebody who helped music get into radios.
Several years later, I realized that the music I heard on the radio at age five originated from an AM radio station. In fact, most of what I heard was on AM radio. I was aware of FM radio but it consisted of classical or elevator music. I was not a pop/rock snob, though. I liked listening to “beautiful music” stations because I loved the clarity and discrete stereo sound of FM. I think I’m one of the very few people of my generation who actually listened to it through high quality headphones.
It was during my teens that I discovered the roots of a brand new, personal holiday of sorts. January 5, 1940 is when the U.S. Federal Communications Commission witnessed a demonstration of FM radio for the very first time. FM, or Frequency Modulation is an improvement over AM, or the Amplitude Modulation that was the industry standard for early commercial radio.
Bear with me on this part of my story, because I’m not a technician or engineer. A carrier wave is the raw signal you tune into when selecting a station on your radio. In FM, the instantaneous frequency of the carrier wave is proportional to the values of the input sound signals. While, with AM, the amplitude or vibration of the carrier wave is what changes with the input sound.
I’ll quit here, before I start writing misinformation. My former engineer coworkers might be reading this post, so I don’t want to appear totally ignorant. I do know how FM works, I simply can’t describe it well in layman’s terms. If you really want to understand FM, you can search the web for the deep stuff.
Suffice it to say that radio, FM in particular, captured my young imagination. This interest only intensified after pop and rock started appearing on FM. The second important music format was album oriented rock or AOR. FM lost its “alternative radio band” status in 1978, when it became the dominant form of commercial broadcasting.
Coincidentally, I landed my last job in radio in September of 1978. I worked on both AM and FM bands, but eventually I worked exclusively on the night shift. Our AM station signed off the air each night at sunset, so my work was mainly on FM.
At first, the station’s call-letters were WJAG-FM. It broadcast elevator music all day from antiquated automation equipment. The 1980s saw many upgrades at the station. These included a more upbeat, soft rock format and brand new call letters, KEXL-FM. While still largely automated, KEXL became more “hands on” with more time for live deejays. The station played mostly mainstream conservative popular music, but night times were more upbeat. I even had a disco show on the weekends.
The music styles changed through the next decades to what is now considered mainstream popular or rock. Eventually, KEXL’s automation became more and more integrated with syndicated satellite programming and less hands on at night. My other responsibilities in public affairs took precedence and I became only another voice to plug into the automated programming of the stations.
This anniversary of the demonstration of FM to the FCC has been a good time for some personal nostalgia. Thank you for indulging me, today.
The Blue Jay of Happiness is still very much into dance music.